Medieval women can teach us how to smash gender rules and the glass ceiling

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. The post is written by Laura Kalas Williams, Postdoctoral researcher in medieval literature and medicine and Associate Tutor at the University of Exeter.

On the night of the US election, Manhattan’s magisterial, glass-encased Javits Centre stood with its ceiling intact and its guest-of-honour in defeated absence. Hillary Clinton – who has frequently spoken of “the highest, hardest glass ceiling” she was attempting to shatter – wanted to bring in a new era with symbolic aplomb. As supporters despaired in that same glass palace, it was clear that the symbolism of her defeat was no less forceful.

People wept, hopes were dashed, and more questions were raised about just what it will take for the most powerful leader on the planet to one day be a woman. Hillary Clinton’s staggering experience and achievements as a civil rights lawyer, first lady, senator and secretary of state were not enough.

The double-standards of gender “rules” in society have been disconcertingly evident of late. The Clinton campaign said FBI director James Comey’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private server revealed “jaw-dropping” double standards. Trump, however, lauded him as having “guts”. When no recriminating email evidence was found, Trump ran roughshod over the judicial process, claiming: “Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it. The FBI knows it, the people know it.” Chants of “lock her up” resonated through the crowd at a rally.

Mob-like cries for a woman to be incarcerated without evidence or trial? That’s medieval.

The heart of a king

Since time immemorial, women have manipulated gender constructs in order to gain agency and a voice in the political milieu. During her speech to the troops at Tilbury, anticipating the invasion of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I famously claimed:

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.


Elizabeth I, The Ditchley Portrait, c. 1592, National Portrait Gallery. Elizabeth stands upon England, and the top of the world itself. Her power and domination are symbolised by the celestial sphere hanging from her left ear. The copious pearls represent her virginity and thus maleness. Wikimedia Commons

Four hundred years later, Margaret Thatcher seemed obliged to follow the same approach, employing a voice coach from the National Theatre to help her to lower her voice. And Clinton told a rally in Ohio: “Now what people are focused upon is choosing the next president and commander-in-chief.” Not a million miles away from the kingly-identifications of Elizabeth, the pseudo-male “Virgin Queen”.

This gender-play has ancient origins. In the late fourth century AD, St Jerome argued that chaste women become male. Likewise, the early Christian non-canonical Gospel of Thomasclaimed that Jesus would make Mary “male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males”.


15th century ‘Disease Woman’. Wellcome Collection, MS Wellcome Apocalypse 49, f.38r.

By the Middle Ages, this idea of female bodily inferiority became material as well as spiritual as medical texts on the topic proliferated. Women’s bodies were considered inferior and more prone to disease. Because of the interiority of female anatomy, male physicians had to rely on diagrams and texts to interpret them, often with a singular focus on the reproductive system. Since men mostly wrote the books, the lexical and pictorial construction of the female body has therefore been historically, and literally, “written” by male authors.

So women, who were socially constrained by their female bodies and living in a man’s world, had to enact radical ways to modify their gender and even their very physiology. To gain authority, women had to be chaste, and to behave like men by adopting “masculine” characteristics. Such modifications might appear to compromise feminist, or proto-feminist, ambitions, but they were in fact sophisticated strategies to undermine or subvert the status quo.

Gender-play


Illuminated image from Hildegard of Bingen’s (1098-1179) Scivias, depicting her enclosed in a nun’s cell, writing. Wikimedia Commons

Medieval women who desired a voice in religious circles (the Church was, of course, the unelected power of the day) shed their femininity by adapting their bodies, the way that they used them, and therefore the way in which they were “read” by others. Through protecting their virginity, fasting, mortifying their flesh, perhaps reading, writing, or becoming physically enclosed in a monastery or anchorhold, they reoriented the way in which they were identified.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) famously led an army to victory in the Hundred Years War dressed as a soldier, in a time when women were not supposed to fight.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), defying social codes of female beauty, shaved her hair in defiance of her parents’ wish to have her married. She later had a powerful mystical experience whereby she received the heart of Christ in place of her own; a visceral transformation which radically altered her body and identity.

And St Agatha (231-251), whose story was widely circulated in the Middle Ages, refused to give in to sexual pressure and was tortured, finally suffering the severing of her breasts. She has since been depicted as offering her breasts on a plate to Christ and the world. Agatha subverted her torturers’ aim, exploited her “de-feminised” self and instead offered her breasts as symbols of power and triumph.


Saint Agatha bearing her severed breasts on a platter, Piero della Francesca (c. 1460–70). Wikimedia Commons

Some scholars have even argued that monks and nuns were a considered a “third gender” in the Middle Ages: neither fully masculine nor feminine.

These flexible gender systems show how medieval people were perhaps more sophisticated in their conceptualisation of identity that we are today, when challenges to binary notions of gender are only now becoming widely discussed. Medieval codes of chastity might not be to most 21st-century tastes, but these powerful women-in-history took control of their own identification: found loopholes in the rules, found authority in their own self-fashioning.

The US presidential campaign has without doubt reinvigorated the politics of gender. Hillary Clinton has said: “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle”. It is easy to leap at such a comment, seeing Clinton as a media-sycophant, playing to the expectation that women are defined by their appearance. But in fact, like myriad women before her, Clinton was manipulating and exploiting the very rules that seek to define her.

Complete liberation this is not. Only when the long history of gender rules is challenged will powerful women no longer be compared to men. Like the response of Joan of Arc and her troops, it is surely now time for another call to arms: for the freedoms of tolerance, inclusion, equality and compassion. We must turn grief into optimism and words into action. To shatter not the dreams of girls around the world, but the glass ceilings that restrain them.

PhDing in a Foreign Land

Sam_Hayes_3colThinking of taking your PhD to somewhere else in the world? Sam Hayes shares his experiences organising and carrying out a research visit to Munich in the spring of 2015. Such a visit can feel quite daunting to arrange, but it’s well worth taking the plunge.

Just over a year ago I did what was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done: I got on a plane and set out to spend three months in another country to continue my PhD research and improve my foreign language skills. This was the longest I’ve ever spent abroad by myself, and I was shocked (and surprised) by how much I learned about myself while out there, and the personal challenges I faced. I thought that in this post I’d share some of those experiences to try and help any other research students out there looking to do some research abroad.

How to Get There

Possibly the most important thing on the list is to get where you want to go. This is a bit more complicated than just hopping on a plane; you’ll need to select a host institution, find a colleague to work with, and try to get any funding to cover your travel costs. This is actually a lot like choosing a PhD supervisor and institution, but with the added advantage that you’ll probably know more about your project at this stage (and you’re not burdened with your choice for the next three years).

I narrowed it down to two institutions, and decided on Munich in the end. This city has produced a bunch of Martial scholars who’ve heavily influenced the field, and the option to meet these people was too good to miss. The person I contacted at Munich also got back to me very quickly and although she couldn’t supervise me due to her being on sabbatical she put me in contact with a finishing PhD student of hers who was hugely helpful. The other institution… was less helpful, and the scholar I would have worked with was very busy. I went with my gut.

For funding I was lucky enough to have a fund specifically designed for AHRC students to travel with, but there are numerous institutions like the DAAD which regularly advertise this kind of travel scholarship. My advice would be to get everything sorted out a long time before you travel as deadlines can be quite tight (I didn’t apply to the DAAD in the end because of this). It might be worth considering waiting until the next funding round to get everything sorted in time. The Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität also helped source my accommodation for me (which was a godsend), but there are loads of good websites out there to help you out. Make sure to ask your local contact(s) for advice and support.

What to Do When You’re There (Academic)

The number 1 priority for me was to improve my reading and conversational German, but it’s also worth experiencing life and study in another country, as well as seeing what you can while you’re there.

I found improving my conversational German very difficult when I was in Munich because Germans tend to practice their (irritatingly good) English on you. If you discover that people find it easier to communicate with you in English I’d suggest finding a couple of people who are exceedingly patient to practice on (elderly landladies are perfect for this). I’d also recommend doing what I didn’t and joining an intensive language programme. They can be expensive, but the results speak volumes. The proudest moment of my stay was going grocery shopping for my landlady and managing the whole trip in German (frozen red cabbage was particularly hard!). After nearly a month and a half feeling like I couldn’t express myself it was moments like this that really boosted my confidence. My spoken German is still not perfect, but I’m so much faster than when I started, and my reading abilities have sky-rocketed. It’s worth being honest with the levels you can achieve while you’re there as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

You should also check out the institution while you’re there. Find out how their research culture works, how their undergraduates learn, and how they socialise. I found it a bit odd that there was a much sharper distinction between work time and free time (lots of very serious German faces 9-5, for instance), but the sense of community was stronger too. The more you can see and do the better. I also gave a research talk (in English) and got to meet several colleagues at this and other events (including those scholars I mentioned earlier). Make sure to make the most of the time you have, too – going over and chatting to some big-shot professor because you may never get another chance is a good idea, and you might well be the most interesting person in the room at this point too so knock yourself out. If all else fails you won’t be there long, anyway.

What to Do When You’re There (Non-Academic)

Don’t forget that this is still a trip. Travel! See the world! What’s the point of going hundreds of miles to simply sit in another dark room reading books and articles? The chances are you’ll have far too much spare time in a strange, new place anyway so you can always catch up on work in the quiet hours. The worst thing to do is just sit around feeling sorry for yourself – force yourself out of the front door and see the local sights, walk the block. See, feel, smell, hear, and taste the novelty. If you don’t when’s your next chance? What stories will you tell your envious friends at home when you get back?

I guarantee that travelling for part of your PhD can be one of the hardest parts of the doctorate, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding for me. I’ve met so many exciting new people, seen and experienced new things, and got to travel a bit more of Europe in the process. This is the most free you’ll ever be in your academic life, so go out there and, as a wise philosopher once put it, just do it.

Sam Hayes is a third year PhD student in Classics, specialising in Latin literature, at the University of Exeter. He hosts a blog (on which this piece originally appeared) at https://samhayesclassics.wordpress.com/ where he discusses aspects of his research and the overall PhD experience.

This blog has been reposted with permission of the author.

Researching Abroad

Researching abroad as part of PhD study is the topic covered in our latest episode of The Humanities PhD podcast. Listen below:

Being a Part of It: the Benefits of Being on a Committee

Do you like being part of your academic community? Do you feel that talking to people in your field is inspiring? Maybe you should be on a Committee…

Personally I find it really exciting when I get a chance to speak to people who really understand my subject. The best conversations are the ones where I get to talk about the specific issues at play in my wider field of performance and my narrower field of circus – the chance to talk about the specific issues at play is really exciting because of the connections it inspires and the feeling of being understood.

So, last year when the chance to join the Society for Theatre Research’s New Researcher’s Network  came up, it seemed a good opportunity. I had the chance to meet and work with like-minded people with the aim of trying to think about some of the ways we could make being a PGR or ECR in the field of performance easier.

For me it also represented something slightly different: an opportunity to bring my old professional life and my newer academic life into conversation. Previously I had been a marketer who ran events and managed communications, including social media. This set of skills was something that the NRN needed, so it felt like a good way to contribute something useful.

Since I joined the NRN I’ve worked with the other person responsible for social media and publicity to set up our own blog  focused on providing useful reflections on personal experiences of research eg the ‘I-wish-I’d-known-this-when-I-started’ or descriptions of moments that changed people’s perspectives on their research. I’ve also started to organise a symposium that has given me the chance to draw on personal connections for mutual benefit, eg publicising an archive I love and drawing on the expertise of some of my personal connections. There is also something interesting in observing how these types of organisation work.

I think this is probably the key to deciding if you want to be part of a committee like the NRN. You need to be prepared to give something as well as to work out what is in it for you. For me a lot of the experience I have had has been in a range of industries such as corporate events, civil engineering/construction services (sexy!) and the charity sector. Being a part of a field-specific committee has allowed me to use those skills and make them more relevant to the academic context I am now working in, whereas for you it might be gaining them for the first time. It has also widened my network to include some great people who I am now working with who I might not have met because are research doesn’t overlap – circus meets live-streaming/Shakespeare/early modern studies anyone?

You probably can identify something else hovering underneath all of this description. I think we have to be honest that part of what being on a committee involves is a wish to make your CV more desirable. Yes, that is definitely true, but you will only get the most out of it if you are also invested in giving something back. I’d definitely recommend doing it because you’ll meet some great people and have some inspiring conversations along the way.


Author’s Bio

Kate Holmes is based in the Drama department and is in the third year of a PhD on female aerial performers of the 1920s and early 1930s. For more information on Kate’s research please see her eprofile .

This Blog has been posted with the permission of the author.

 

How Ross Poldark was a victim of Cornwall’s changing industrial landscape

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. The article was written by Joseph Crawford, Lecturer in English. 

In July 2016, the BBC announced the commissioning of a third season of costume drama Poldark, months before the second series was even due to be broadcast. This represents an impressive vote of confidence in the series, especially as season two will apparently not be repeating the famous “topless scything” scene which won the National Television Awards’ prize for TV Moment of the Year.

Go West. BBC

Go West. BBC

The real pivotal moment depicted by Poldark, however, is one of historical change in south-west England. In the mid-18th century, Cornwall and Devon were major commercial and industrial centres. Cornwall’s tin and copper mines were some of the largest and most sophisticated in Europe, while the profits from the Cornwall and Devonshire wool trade helped make Exeter one of the biggest and richest cities in England.

By the mid-19th century however, much had changed. The rise of the mechanised cloth industry in England’s North and Midlands sent the south-western wool trade into serious decline. And while Cornwall’s mining industry survived well into the 20th century, it experienced repeated crises from the 1770s onwards. This was primarily due to newly discovered tin and copper mines elsewhere in the world, leading to the large-scale emigration of Cornish miners to countries such as Mexico, Australia and Brazil.

The era depicted in Poldark shows the region on the very tipping-point of this transition. Ross Poldark’s struggles to keep his mine open and profitable are symptomatic of the economic difficulties experienced by the region as a whole during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

As south-western towns lost their traditional role as centres of trade and industry, their focus shifted increasingly to tourism. This was especially true during the long years of the Napoleonic Wars which form the backdrop to the later Poldark novels. Cut off by war from their favoured resorts in France and Italy, a generation of English tourists began taking holidays in Devon and Cornwall instead.

By the late 18th century, writers in Devon were praising their native county for its natural beauty and its ancient history, rather than for the wealth and industry of which their parents and grandparents had been so proud. By the mid-19th century, the same was increasingly true of Cornwall.

This economic shift led, in turn, to the development of the Victorian mythology of the “romantic South-West”, still beloved of local tourist boards today.

This mythology is built upon a version of the region’s history which emphasises its remote and wild character, playing on associations with Merlin and King Arthur, druids and witches, smugglers and wreckers and pirates.

Like most costume dramas, Poldark’s primary concern is with the travails of cross-class romance. But it is also a narrative about de-industrialisation, and about the struggle of local businesses to remain competitive and economically viable within an increasingly globalised economy – a story which has some resonance in early 21st-century Britain.

The poverty of the Cornish miners with whom Ross Poldark identifies is not simply the result of gratuitous oppression. Instead they are the victims of a new economic order which has little interest in preserving local industry for its own sake.

Wild West

The show has certainly not been shy about making lavish use of the beauty of its Cornish setting, and has already triggered something of a tourism boom, with visitors flocking to the region to see for themselves the moors, cliffs, and beaches which Poldark employs to such dramatic visual effect.

But it also depicts the historical struggles of the region’s inhabitants to preserve the South West as something more than just a pretty place for other people to visit on holiday. In this sense, it is rather symbolic that season one of Poldark ends with Ross being falsely accused of wrecking. The legend of the Cornish wreckers, which reached its definitive form in Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, is founded on extremely slender historical evidence, but it persists because it fits in so neatly with the Victorian mythology of the South West in general, and Cornwall in particular: a mythology which viewed it as a lawless and desperate land, filled with crime and adventure, and remote from all true civilisation.

In Poldark, the looting of the wrecked vessel is motivated by hunger and poverty, which have in turn been caused by the economic depression besetting the region. But after spending the whole season struggling against Cornwall’s industrial decline, Ross finds himself in danger of being absorbed into a new kind of narrative about the South West – one which will have no place for men like him, except as picturesque savages.

Of course, in this respect, Poldark rather wants to both have its grain and (shirtlessly) reap it, too. Ross Poldark and Demelza appeal to their audience precisely because they embody the kind of romantic wildness which, since the Victorian era, has been the stock-in-trade of the south-western tourist industry.

They are passionate, free-spirited, and dismissive of class boundaries and social conventions: hardly the kind of people that the self-consciously respectable merchants and industrialists of the 18th-century South West would have wanted as their representatives or champions. But by setting its story of class antagonism against the backdrop of this crucial turning-point in the history of the South West, Poldark does serve as a reminder that the quietness of the region, which has proven so attractive to generations of tourists, is not the natural state of a land untouched by commerce or industry. It is the silence which follows their enforced departure.

Experimental Archaeology: Neanderthal Spear Technology

PhD student Alice La Porta is undertaking archaeological experiments on the nature Neanderthal spear use this summer as part of her PhD project on Middle Palaeolithic stone tool projectile technology. Read all about her research below!

Did Neanderthal use stone-tipped wooden spears as throwing hunting weapons?

Fig 1 Alice and friends

Alice la Porta during the first set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

In Europe, a small number of wooden spears have been found in archaeological contexts from the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic (c. 1,200,000-40,000 years ago), such as at Schöningen, Clacton and Lehringen. The first suggestion that such spears had stone tips comes in the European Middle Palaeolithic, the time of the Neanderthals, in the form of distinctive stone points, also called Levallois or Mousterian points. But how can we be certain that these stone points were used by Neanderthals as spear-heads for their wooden spears? Analysing the utilization wear and the impact fractures present on the surfaces of modern, experimentally-used spear-tips and archaeological stone points, using optical and digital microscopes, is one approach to inferring the prehistoric uses of these tools.

A big question in any discussion of Middle Palaeolithic spears is…how were Neanderthals using their stone-tipped wooden spears? Where Neanderthals throwing their spears or were they using them as close-range thrusting weapons? It has previously been argued that, while Neanderthal populations may have used stone-tipped wooden spears, these were rudimentary thrusting weapons. However the differences between throwing and thrusting spear delivery systems are still poorly understood for the earlier Palaeolithic, both in terms of spear performance and concerning the traces left behind on the spear tips. This partly reflects the limited range of experiments which had, until recently, been undertaken.

Fig 2 spear throw

First set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

Building on previous archaeological experiments, and drawing on ethnographic observations, I am conducting a series of weaponry experiments within my PhD research project. The experiments aim to test the performances of replica Middle Palaeolithic stone-tipped wooden spears, and explore the differences in the resulting wear and breakage patterns that can be seen on the thrown and thrusted spears.

The experiments  have  been  funded  by  the  UK’s  South  West  and  Wales  Doctoral  Training Partnership (SWW DTP), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the University of Exeter. They are taking place at Aöza Open-air Museum “Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen” (Albersdorf, Germany) within the OpenArch/EXARC partnership. The support of all of these organisations is very gratefully acknowledged.

Author’s Bio:

Alice La Porta is a second year PhD student in the Archaeology department studying stone tools in the Middle Palaeolithic. She is funded by the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership under the supervision of Linda Hurcombe and Rob Hosfield (University of Reading).

This piece originally appeared on the Archaeology Department blog (http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/archaeology/2016/07/05/experimental-archaeology-neanderthal-spear-technology/)

 

Reflections on the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow

This article was originally posted on the Digital Humanities at Exeter blog and is reproduced with kind permission.

Copyright Chetwode Ram Associates LTD 2015. No publication without the correct license. Call 00441637830225 to check or apply. All unlicensed publication will be charged.

Digitising using the conservation cradle in the Special Collections

Hannah Petrie reflects on her time spent at the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow in Poland.

This was my first time attending the annual Digital Humanities conference, and it’s certainly the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. We were told that at final count, there were 902 delegates from 45 different countries (to put it in perspective, the Digital Humanities congress that I attended in Sheffield in 2014 had 100 delegates). I went along with four of my colleagues from our Digital Humanities team in Exeter and one PhD student.

The main lecture theatre that we congregated in for the plenaries was impressively huge, and must have seated around 1200 people. The scale of the conference was reflected by the number of parallel sessions on offer. Eleven sessions ran concurrently throughout most of the conference, meaning that each one involved a difficult decision. Checking Storify feeds of tweet highlights from the conference, I felt like there was at least another conference-worth of additional material. I sometimes wanted to attend two or three sessions that were running at the same time, and wished that some of the sessions could have been recorded so that we could listen to the ones we missed afterwards.

Workshops
As well as the conference, my colleagues and I had also registered for a number of workshops, which took place in the two days before the conference began. The workshops I chose gave me an introduction to using the tools GAMS and Cirilo to deposit and archive research documents; using Voyant Tools for text analysis, so that you can instantly generate wordclouds and other useful tools to tell you about word use in your corpus; and how to create a simulation using R, but also how to think through the scenario effectively before you even begin coding. It was a lot to take in but was also a good opportunity to meet people in smaller groups.

Conference
For the main conference, I ended up going to a lot of the talks on analysing and using new media, and also dipping into the stylometry, scholarly editions and mapping tracks. Some of the discussions and visualisations I saw afterwards on Twitter looked fascinating too, with the diversity panels in particular generating a lot of interest. There was so much on offer that you always had to miss out on something, but between us, our team tried to make sure that we went to as many different parallel sessions as possible.

I was presenting a short paper with my colleague Charlotte Tupman on the Thursday [abstract], so on the Wednesday afternoon before the poster session, we found a vacant lecture theatre and took some time to go over our presentation and to make sure that our slides worked. It was a useful precaution, because we found that our live demo didn’t look quite right on the big screen because of the aspect ratio, so we were able to record a screencast instead.

Our poster
My colleague Graham Fereday had a poster accepted on the subject of 3D scanning for preservation [abstract], and was presenting at the poster slam. The poster was a joint effort between Graham and our colleagues Mick Mullins, Rich Webb and Gary Stringer. At the slam, everyone had 4 minutes maximum to present their posters to the group. Again, this was on a huge scale, with 4 simultaneous sessions, each with around 20 presenters – and these were just the people who had opted to present. At the reception later, posters were roughly organised by subject into 26 groups. We had the opportunity to wander round each stall and talk to the creators. It was quite an efficient way to make connections with people who had similar research interests to you. People came to speak to Graham about 3D scanning and techniques and we made links that may not otherwise have been formed.

Our presentation
Our presentation went off without a hitch on Thursday, and there was a much larger audience than I thought we might have. People seemed attentive and several tweeted about our paper.

We had some very useful feedback and discussions as a result of delivering the paper, and I discovered that presenting wasn’t as daunting as I’d been worried about: everyone was very friendly and encouraging.

Finishing up
Claire Warwick’s keynote talk on digital information design marked the closing ceremony and gave us a lot of food for thought. She posited the library as a physical interface for accessing information and asked what this might mean for our access of digital information, which doesn’t have a physical presence in the same way. She illustrated how we navigate physical resources, such as being able to remember the position on the page of a particular sentence, or being able to walk back to the shelf on which you found a particular book, simply don’t apply for digital. The conclusion was that we should accept that digital is different and we should try to make it work in its own way.

I found it interesting to hear that many students much preferred working in the library to anywhere else, even if they brought their own device and weren’t using any of the physical resources from the library, because it was the space that they associated with work and that they felt was important.

It was announced at the closing ceremony that DH 2017 would be held in Montreal, Canada. The news about the accessibility of next year’s conference was welcomed enthusiastically, and the promise of a virtual stream is also a step in the right direction for such a large conference. We had better get practising our French too, as it will be bilingual.

Next year, I’d like to see the conference embrace the digital even more, with a mobile-friendly programme online, the ability to create a personalised schedule, and a list of all conference attendees and their institutions, so you could look up people’s contact information after you meet them.

At the banquet on the final night, I was presented with my ADHO bursary award along with all of the other winners. There seemed to be a lot of us and it’s hoped there will be even more next year. In the final networking opportunity of the conference, we sat next to delegates from Finland, Germany and The Netherlands.

Aside from the bustle of the conference, we also got to explore the city in our free time. We took a walk down by the river one evening and discovered the statue of the dragon near the castle, which surprised us by breathing real fire when we walked by. I managed to find Massolit Bookshop, which a friend had described to me as his favourite bookshop in Europe. We even had the chance to explore the famous salt mines at Wieliczka on the day we arrived. On the last evening we waited by St. Mary’s Basilica tower in central square for the trumpeter who appears there every hour on the hour, day and night. According to local legend, the trumpet call ends abruptly as a tribute the famous trumpeter who was shot in the throat with an arrow in the 13th-century, when sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. Despite our scepticism the trumpeter showed up right on time, and played the Hejnał Mariacki at each of the 4 tower windows. And then it was time to say goodbye to Kraków and begin our journey back home.


Hannah Petrie works in Digital Humanities Archives and Documentation in the College’s Digital Humanities Team. Her expertise includes working with archived data, documenting research projects on the web, and text encoding with TEI. She is currently contributing to an XQuery- and XSLT-based text archive system as part of an AHRC research project. She was awarded an ADHO early career bursary, which enabled her to attend this conference. She attended this conference along with five of her colleagues from Exeter: Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman, Graham Fereday and Rich Holding from the Digital Humanities team, and PhD student Richard Graham.

Rock/Body: A new research network

Rock Body

Photo courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

Dr João Florêncio explores questions raised as part of Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded project for which he is the Principal Investigator.

If asked about the similarities and possible continuities between the geologic world and the human body, most people will probably shrug and leave it at that, probably with a sense of disbelief on the value of the question just thrown at them: what would such disparate realms have in common? Why would one be interested in thinking together rocks—perceived as hard, static, dead, ever-lasting—and human bodies—seen as living, fleshy, organic, perishable, and capable of affects?

However, when paid closer look, geologic and human bodies begin to appear somewhat porous to one another. Think about calcium, for instance. Produced by the stars, it entered the composition of rocky planets like the Earth, where it became constituent part of sedimentary rocks. However, calcium is also very soluble in water and thus makes the jump into the animal food chain where it becomes a crucial element for the mineralisation of teeth and bones as well as some cellular processes. Without calcium—arriving from the stars to the rocks to the water to the food you eat–you wouldn’t be able to stand, let alone dare to walk.

Besides life’s dependence on minerals, geologic and human bodies have also been brought closer together thanks to two other events of a totally different kind (recent ones, if we consider them in relation to the wider history of the Earth). Those events—industrialisation and capitalism—unfolded through the exploitation, on the one hand, of geological resources such as coal and, on the other, human resources in the form of labour time. It was coal that powered James Watt’s steam engine; and it was human labour that extracted the coal to feed the industrial revolution. The burning out of rocks and bodies were essential for the accumulation of capital. And they keep on being so even today when our smartphones, tablets, and “cloud computing” interfaces—so cleanly conceived and designed they appear eons away from the smog and black lung of the industrial revolution—are still dependent on the mining of rare metals mostly taking place in developing countries and which are necessary to support the circuit boards, servers, and communication cables upon which our fetishised gadgets depend. Further, it is also often developing countries that are paid to import the e-waste produced when our smart machines reach their planned obsolescence and dispose of it. What do these stories tell about different kinds of human bodies and their relationships with metal and other geological resources at a time when one could be forgiven for thinking the world has freed itself from matter and become primarily quantified and understood in terms of data and Mbps (Megabytes per second)?

SingleRock_Colour_1000px

Image courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

As such, if we consider the porosity of the geologic and the human to one another, highlighted by millions of years of circulation and storage of minerals between rocks and living bodies and back again; and if we accept that both rocks and human bodies have a shared history of exploitation under capitalism, in what ways can these overlaps—these blurry areas where rock becomes (human) body becomes rock—open new pathways for collaborative research projects across disciplinary borders that have divided modern academia between sciences, humanities, and arts? What kinds of questions can a focus on these areas of ontological fuzziness bring about if the geologic and the human appear to no longer hold clearly defined boundaries separating the one from the other? And what can it do for the ways in which we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world at a time when the planet is changing so rapidly, environmentally, socially, politically?

In order to start probing these questions, Lancaster University’s Professor Nigel Clark and I have brought together a diverse group of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists under Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded research networking project. Departing from the belief that the scope and implications of the issues at hand cannot be safely contained within the traditional boundaries of a single discipline—or of various disciplines working without permeability to one another—the participants in the network have been meeting since April for a series of three research seminars where each researcher has been contributing their own thoughts on the interfacings of the geologic with the human body.

Organised around three sub-themes—Flesh/Minerality, Extraction/Exhaustion, and Time/Duration—the seminars bring together artists, curators, social scientists, earth scientists, and humanities scholars in order to start enacting much-needed cross-disciplinary dialogues and, from there, sketch future research partnerships.

The project will culminate at Exeter in September with an exhibition of artworks by participating artists and the presentations of a new site-specific performance piece conceived in response to the seminar discussions and the Exeter landscape.


FAT_6918_JoaoFlorencioDr Joao Florencio is a Lecturer in History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture. He holds a BA from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, an MA with Distinction from the University of Greenwich, and a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London.

An A-Z of reasons to do a POST fellowship

Sarah Foxen’s piece originally appeared on the NEWBROGUESANDBLISTERS Blog and is reposted with permission.

AZ

Last year I did a POST fellowship. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Applications are now open for the next round of fellowships and I cannot recommend it highly enough; here is an A – Z of reasons why.

Assertiveness
You engage with all sorts of people during your fellowship; there’s no hiding in the corner. You find your voice and your assertiveness develops.

Balance
You see academic research from beyond the academy and that is really useful. Inside the academy, you only see half of the story. Engaging with research outside the institution balances your view of its place and function in our world.

Collaboration
A PhD can be quite a lonely experience. However, during your fellowship you (learn to) work collaboratively; with colleagues, fellows and others that you engage with.

Drive
You have a clearly defined task on your placement and a clearly defined goal. You also have a relatively short time to do it in. You need to work to a plan and you need to go for it. In so doing, you develop – and work with – a drive to achieve.

Expertise
You’ve been developing expertise in a particular field for some years now. Your placement puts you in contexts where you get to call upon the expertise you’ve worked so hard to develop.

Friends
You meet really nice, interesting, dynamic people, some of whom will become friends.

Giving
It’s not just about what you can get by doing a fellowship, but also what you can give. As a funded PhD student, several funding bodies have probably invested in your development over the years. By doing a fellowship and using those skills, you get to give back.

Helping
You will have developed a lot of skills and knowledge over the years. These may be unique to you. On your placement you can use your knowledge and skills to help colleagues and fellows.

Inspiration
In a completely different environment, meeting new people, going new places, doing new things, making new connections, inspiration strikes.

Job prospects
A fellowship looks great on your CV and provides you with fantastic experiences to recall in cover letters and interviews.

Knowledge
On your fellowship you research a topic in depth. In so doing, you gain a lot of knowledge in that area.

Learning
PhD students love to learn, but PhDs have us focusing our learning. Doing a fellowship, you learn lots of different things through the things you do and the people you meet. Some of the things you learn are really valuable and worth sharing.

Momentum
If a PhD is a marathon, then a fellowship is a 10k race. The pace is faster. You’ve only got three months to turn it around, and that means you’ve got to keep moving, which is really welcome when you’ve been creeping along at a snail’s pace with the PhD.

Network
During your fellowship, you engage with all sorts of different people; some you meet just once, others you liaise with repeatedly. They introduce you to others. Connecting with them on social media, you connect to others who are connected to them. You grow a fantastic network.

Opportunities
Opportunities come at you from left, right and centre. You will also be in a position to make your own opportunities. You must take hold of those opportunities and go for it.

Purpose
Sometimes we are disheartened by the thought that our esoteric thesis will be read by just a handful of people and is unlikely to change the world. The work you produce on your fellowship has purpose. It is widely read. It is useful. It feeds into parliamentary and policy debate. It is impactful.

Questioning
On your fellowship you scrutinise all kinds of documents and evidence. You become much more discerning and your default becomes to question things.

Reflection
When you’re in a different context, you see yourself from a different perspective. Your fellowship opens up a space for you to reflect on where you’re at and where you want to go next.

Space
Your fellowship gives you space and distance from your own research. It allows you to think about it differently and see it from a different perspective. When you return to it you are refreshed with new ideas of how to approach it.

Tales
Based in Westminster, interacting with all sorts of fascinating people, carrying out research of contemporary societal importance, you come away with great stories woven into your life tapestry.

Understanding
Working in Westminster, you gain a lot of understanding into how Parliament and Government work and how they interact with wider society.

Vision
Your fellowship allows you to see how academic research is made meaningful in the wider world. You see it through the eyes of parliamentarians, policy makers, charities, industry, journalists and others. You see it in a whole new light and that changes the way you do research.

Writing
During your fellowship, you write in a way you probably haven’t written before; you write about complicated things in a concise and accessible way. You learn a whole new useful way of writing.

eXpectation
The calibre of people you mix with on your fellowship is pretty high. People work hard, have high expectations and get things done. Being in that environment, those things rub off. You grow into that kind of a professional, and come away with those kinds of expectations.

Yolo
The idea of doing a fellowship might feel overwhelming: ‘I could never do that,’ you think. Well, you can. Your colleagues are supportive and helpful, and you will get there. Be brave, go for it, YOLO.

Zeal
The POST team and fellows are dynamic, motivated, quick, engaged, and on the ball. It’s an energetic and inspiring environment and it’s contagious.


Author’s Bio

Sarah Foxen is a postgraduate researcher in French Linguistics. Her research investigates the interactions between language and identity in the Franco-Belgian borderland. She is also interested in trends and developments in academia, and blogs about researcher skills, research and impact from the perspective of a junior academic.

The Medieval Somme: forgotten battle that was the bloodiest fought on British soil

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. It was written by James Clark, Professor of Medieval History.

Richard Caton Woodville’s The Battle of Towton.

A Battle of the Somme on British soil? It happened on Palm Sunday, 1461: a day of fierce fighting in the mud that felled a generation, leaving a longer litany of the dead than any other engagement in the islands’ history – reputed in some contemporary reports to be between 19,000 – the same number killed or missing in France on July 1 1916 – and a staggering 38,000.

The battle of Towton, fought near a tiny village standing on the old road between Leeds and York, on the brink of the North York Moors, is far less known than many other medieval clashes such as Hastings or Bosworth. Many will never have heard of it.

But here, in a blizzard on an icy cold March 29 1461, the forces of the warring factions of Lancaster and York met in a planned pitched battle that soon descended into a mayhem known as the Bloody Meadow. It ran into dusk, and through the fields and byways far from the battlefield. To the few on either side that carried their weapon to the day’s end, the result was by no means clear. But York in fact prevailed and within a month (almost to the day), the towering figure of Duke Edward, who stood nearly six-feet-five-inches tall, had reached London and seized the English crown as Edward IV. The Lancastrian king, Henry VI, fled into exile.

Victor: the Yorkist Edward IV. The National Portrait Gallery

Towton was not merely a bloody moment in military history. It was also a turning-point in the long struggle for the throne between these two dynasties whose rivalry has provided – since the 16th century – a compelling overture to the grand opera of the Tudor legend, from Shakespeare to the White Queen. But this summer, as national attention focuses on the 100th anniversary of The Battle of the Somme, we might also take the opportunity to recall a day in our history when total war tore up a landscape that was much closer to home.

An English Doomsday

First, the historian’s caveats. While we know a remarkable amount about this bloody day in Yorkshire more than 550 years ago, we do not have the benefits granted to historians of World War I. Towton left behind no battle plans, memoranda, maps, aerial photographs, nor – above all other in value – first-hand accounts of those who were there. We cannot be certain of the size of the forces on either side, nor of the numbers of their dead.

A death toll of 28,000 was reported as early as April 1461 in one of the circulating newssheets that were not uncommon in the 15th century – and was taken up by a number of the chroniclers writing in the months and years following. This was soon scaled up to nearly 40,000 – about 1% of England’s entire male population – by others, a figure which also came to be cemented in the accounts of some chroniclers.

This shift points to the absence of any authoritative recollection of the battle – but almost certainly the numbers were larger than were usually seen, even in the period’s biggest clashes. Recently, historians have curbed the claims but the latest estimate suggests that 40,000 men took to the field, and that casualties may have been closer to 10,000.

Lethal: an armour-piercing bodkin arrow, as used at Towton. by Boneshaker

But as with the Somme, it is not just the roll-call, or death-toll, that matters, but also the scar which the battle cut across the collective psychology. Towton became a byword for the horrors of the battlefield. Just as July 1 1916 has become the template for the cultural representation of the 1914-18 war, so Towton pressed itself into the popular image of war in the 15th and 16th centuries.

When Sir Thomas Malory re-imagined King Arthur for the rising generation of literate layfolk at the beginning of the Tudor age, it was at Towton – or at least a battlefield very much like it – that he set the final fight-to-the-death between Arthur and Mordred (Morte d’Arthur, Book XXI, Chapter 4). Writing less than ten years after the Yorkist victory, Malory’s Arthurian battleground raged, like Towton, from first light until evening, and laid waste a generation:

… and thus they fought all the long day, and never stinted till the noble knights were laid to the cold earth and ever they fought still till it was near night, and by that time there was there an hundred thousand laid dead upon the ground.

Lions and lambs

In his history plays, Shakespeare also presents Towton as an expression of all the terrible pain of the years of struggle that lasted over a century, from Richard II to Henry VIII. He describes it in Henry VI, Part 3, Act 2, Scene 5:

O piteous spectacle! O bloody times! While lions war and battle for their dens, poor harmless lambs abide their enmity. Weep, wretched man, I’ll aid thee tear for tear.

Both the Somme and Towton saw a generation fall. But while it was a young, volunteer army of “Pals” that was annihilated in 1916, osteo-analysis suggests that Towton was fought by grizzled older veterans. But in the small society of the 15th century, this was no less of a demographic shock. Most would have protected and provided for households. Their loss on such a scale would have been devastating for communities. And the slaughter went on and on. The Lancastrians were not only defeated, they were hunted down with a determination to see them, if not wiped out, then diminished to the point of no return.

Battle of Towton: initial deployment. by Jappalang, CC BY-SA

For its time, this was also warfare on an unprecedented scale. There was no be no surrender, no prisoners. The armies were strafed with vast volleys of arrows, and new and, in a certain sense, industrial technologies were deployed, just as they were at the Somme. Recent archaeology confirmed the presence of handguns on the battlefield, evidently devastating if not quite in the same league as the German’s Maschinengewehr 08 in 1916.

These firearm fragments are among the earliest known to have been in used in northern European warfare and perhaps the very first witnessed in England. Primitive in their casting, they presented as great a threat to the man that fired them as to their target. Surely these new arrivals would have added considerably to the horror.

Fragments of the past

Towton is a rare example in England of a site largely spared from major development, and vital clues to its violent past remain. In the past 20 years, archaeological excavations have not only extended our understanding of the events of that day but of medieval English society in general.

The same is true of the Somme. That battlefield has a global significance as a place of commemoration and reconciliation, especially as Word War I passes out of even secondhand memory. But it also has significance as a site for “live” research. Its ploughed fields and pastures are still offering up new discoveries which likewise can carry us back not only to the last moments of those lost regiments but also to the lost world they left behind them, of Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

It is essential that these battlefields continue to hold our attention. For not only do they deepen our understanding of the experience and mechanics of war, they can also broaden our understanding of the societies from which such terrible conflict springs.

Official World War I memorial rituals could create a generation uncritical of the conflict

This article first appeared on The Conversation. It was written by Catriona Pennell (Senior Lecturer in History, University of Exeter) and Mark Sheehan (Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Victoria University of Wellington)

French and British school children during a Somme Memorial in Thiepval. Yui Mok/PA wire

As commemorations to mark the centenary of the Battle of Somme begin, its clear that World War I retains a lingering and vivid presence in the countries which fought in it. But the unfolding centenary anniversaries can also be understood as a moment of heightened anxiety about the future of the way the war is remembered.

As we move further away from the original event itself, much state-sponsored centenary activity in the UK, Australia and New Zealand has actively targeted young people – singling them out as the “next generation”, charged with carrying the memory of what happened on the battlefield forward.


Children take part in a Somme memorial at Manchester Cathedral. Christopher Furlong/PA Wire

In these countries, the memory of World War I has been sanctified to such an extent that other perspectives beyond a sense of respect for those who were directly affected by the conflict is often overlooked.

In the UK, young people are taking centre stage in all the major government-funded commemorative activities, the cornerstone of which is the £5.3m Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, which aims to take 12,000 secondary state school pupils from England to the memorials on the western front between 2014 and 2019 as part of a national education initiative.

Revered status

Such investment, in a time of economic austerity, requires scrutiny, particularly regarding what ideas about the conflict are emphasised and at the expense of which alternatives. For example, whether children are being asked to reflect on civilians, pacifists or survivors – rather than solely the military dead – or to explore Britain’s uncomfortable relationship to its imperial past.

One secondary school pupil, who took part in a trip to World War I battlefields in spring 2015, told us how she might respond to a member of her coach party who felt remembering the war glorified conflict. She said:

I just really disagree with that viewpoint … it’s like walking into a church and you know saying that you love the devil and you hate God and everything. It’s not appropriate … the tour was to remember and to learn about that you know not many people there are going to put their hands up and agree with you because that’s not the purpose of going.

Much of the UK government’s commemorative activities involving young people are semi-religious, reverential and ritualistic. This risks closing down the opportunity for students to question the purpose of the war, to explore notions of the war’s futility in the light of the outbreak of the World War II, or to consider which narratives of the war are being commemorated at the expense of others.

Anzac identity

In Australia and New Zealand, war remembrance is closely aligned with an Anzac identity. Purported to have emerged at Gallipoli in 1915, this ideal is framed around so-called “common values” of “mateship, courage, equality, self-sacrifice, duty and loyalty”. It is central to museum education programmes that continue to attract thousands of school visitors.

At this year’s Anzac Day dawn service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, director Brendan Nelson addressed “young Australians” directly: “Your search for belonging, meaning and values for the world you want – ends here.”

Australia’s and New Zealand’s commemorative activities also share many of the core elements of British commemoration, for example the exhortation of Laurence Binyon’s ode “we will remember them” is used at Anzac Day dawn services. At the heart of all three national cultures of remembrance is a sense of unquestioning reverence for those who served.


Anzac Day in Sydney. European Press Association

In New Zealand, all schools participated in the Ministry of Education’s Fields of Remembrance project. This saw 80,000 white crosses with the names of local service personal who had died overseas hand delivered to schools and laid in the school grounds, where along with poppies and posters they became the focus of war commemorations.

In Australia, pride has been used to encourage young people to connect with their country’s World War I history. Teenage duo The Berrys won the 2016 ACT Premier’s Anzac Spirit Prize with Proud, a song that thanks a dying Australian soldier and his mates for “a legend to be proud of”.

Amid these official celebrations, there appears to be little space for different perspectives on war remembrance in the UK, Australia and New Zealand that go beyond pride and reverence of the armed forces, are inclusive of difference and allow young people to think critically about the significance of World War I. But if we are serious about the memories of the conflict surviving in all their diversity, we need to equip and encourage young people to engage critically as well as emotionally with this cataclysmic event, and with what it might say to us in the 21st century.

The authors would like to thank to Christina Spittel, lecturer in the school of humanities and social sciences, University of New South Wales, Canberra for help with the Australian examples.